US supermajor ExxonMobil is partnering with Siemens Energy, along with sports car manufacturer Porsche, to use green hydrogen in the manufacturing of carbon-neutral eFuels in Chile.

Siemens revealed it was partnering with Porsche and ExxonMobil, along with other companies — including Enel, HIF, Gasco and ENA — to build a “world first” industrial plant in Punta Arenas, Chile, that will produce “virtually CO2-neutral fuel”, otherwise known as eFuel.

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The project, dubbed Haru Oni, will see green hydrogen produced utilising wind energy in Magallanes, with carbon dioxide then filtered from the air and combined with the hydrogen to produce synthetic methanol, which in turn is converted into eFuel.

Executive vice president for Siemen’s new energy business, Armin Schnettler, claimed the project was a “lighthouse development” for the hydrogen economy.

“We’re jointly developing and realising the world’s first integrated and commercial large-scale plant for producing synthetic, climate-neutral fuels,” Schnettler added.

“In southern Chile, we’re implementing one of the energy industry’s most exciting projects for the future and driving forward the decarbonisation of the mobility sector.

"It means we’re making an important and rapidly effective contribution to reducing CO2 emissions in the traffic and transport sector.”

The pilot project is scheduled to start up next year and will initially produce about 130,000 litres of eFuels.

That capacity is anticipated to rise to about 55 million litres by 2024 and to roughly 550 million litres by 2026.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.

Construction of the plant comes as Chile is aiming to produce the world’s cheapest hydrogen and develop the country into a leading exporter of green hydrogen and its derivatives.

The nation has set the ambitious target of reaching an electrolyser capacity of 5 gigawatts by 2025, rising to 25GW by 2030, as part of its National Green Hydrogen Strategy.

Fuelling classic cars in the energy transition

Porsche initiated the demonstration project and will use the eFuel produced at the Haru Oni plant in its own combustion engine vehicles, with the first fuel from the plant to be used in the company’s Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup race cars from 2022.

Michael Steiner, member of the executive board for research and development at Porsche, said the project fits within the German automobile manufacturer’s overall sustainability strategy, with fuels produced using renewable energy able to make a contribution to the company’s target of achieving a CO2 neutral balance sheet as early as 2030.

“Our icon, the 911, is particularly suitable for the use of eFuels. But so are our much-loved historic vehicles, because around 70% of all Porsches ever built are still on the road today,” he added.

“Our tests with renewable fuels are going very successfully. eFuels will make it possible to reduce fossil CO2 emissions in combustion engines by up to 90%.”

Chile has a traditional methanol industry in the south of the country but key producer Methanex, of Canada, relocated some of this capacity to Louisiana in the US about a decade ago when the attractions of the US shale gas boom coincided with the dwindling supplies from Argentina.